Friday, March 13, 2009

Harry Weisgerber

In above photo The Ridgeview High School Jazz Band, "Tribe" [click for larger picture]

There was a man I once knew named Harry Weisgerber. He was the band director at Ridgeview High School, a wonderful guy who sacrificed a lot of time and effort on the behalf of his students, myself among them. This is a story of his life and times there, from my own perspective.

Harry had a heart of gold- perhaps too much. He dedicated hours and hours of time to us, the band students. All unpaid. As a teacher now, I can appreciate very much his sacrifice and effort.

Although he was kind and giving, some students took advantage of his good nature, and of this he was undeserving. There was a time when the band got a platinum trophy in some competition, and we had a party of sorts in the band room the next day. Well, wouldn't you know, someone was spiking some of the drinks. Harry found out about it and came in to blast us. "FOLKS! What in the HELL are you trying to DO? GET ME FIRED? IF THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT, THEN FINE! YOU CAN DAMN WELL KNOCK YOURSELVES OUT!" And with that he stormed into his office and slammed the door shut, locked, and the rest of us just sort of looked around at each other in the band room, stunned.

Then there was the time we took a field trip to Milledgeville, Georgia, but that's another story.

In my senior year I dropped out of band because I was involved in church, football, and other activities. I remember going into his office to tell him the news that I was dropping the class. He was disappointed, explaining that he had counted on me being in the band, as he had a position for me in the bands formations for halftime shows. He wound up recruiting some freshmen to march, faking the instruments so that it would not look like he had holes in places. I felt bad about that, as I did not want to put him out, but had made up my mind about what activities I wanted to be in that year.

When I got ready to graduate, he discovered that I would be attending his alma mater, Maryville College, and he went out of his way to talk to me and wish me well, which is just like him. The story does not end there, however.

Years later, after college in 1988, I was back in Atlanta working as an Educational Therapist, before I became a public school teacher. Ridgeview had by then become a middle school, and Harry then worked as a 6th grade teacher, no longer burdened with the excessive demands of band director. I happened to have as a patient on the ward a student who had attended Ridgeview Middle School the previous year. I will call her Anna. When I asked Anna about this wonderful man I had had the opportunity to know, she replied that she simply hated him. I was dumbfounded. We had a signed consent to speak with her teachers at the school, so I gave Harry a call later that day.

We spoke cordially for a while and I enjoyed getting to speak with him again, and I felt the feeling was mutual. He related that she was essentially a massive troublemaker and a continuously disruptive force in the classroom. And yes, they had a big time personality conflict. Oh joy. I thanked Harry for his professional opinion and invited him to go to lunch sometime, on me. Regrettably, that was not to be.

When I informed Anna the next day that I had spoken with Mr. Weisgerber, she replied emphatically, "I hope he DIES." It was only a few days after that that I was informed by Anna that Mr. Weisgerber had indeed, died.

I was taken aback, in sorrow and disbelief. I called the school. It seems he had gotten sick and tried to work through the illness, then stayed at home for a few days. By the time he got to the hospital, he had a horrific case of pneumonia and died shortly after that.

It was such a shame. He was in his early 40's at best. I look back in fondness, treasuring the good times, and forgetting the bad ones. Harry, wherever you are, you have had a profound impact on me. When I get to heaven, I still want to take you out to lunch, and we can sit and talk. Yes, that would be good.

armchair coach
amateur historian


Anonymous said...

Did you send this to Phil Hutto? He is on staff at Emory.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post. I see why Harry treated us middle schoolers so bad. Never wish he died (like "Anna") but did not like him.

Glenn Houtchens said...

Please elaborate, Anonymous. Thanks. And try to give us both sides of the picture. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I often think about Harry Weisgerber as it was so rare to have a male teacheer growing up. I'd like to tell you more about him that you would find interesting, but I can't find a personal email address for you on your blogsite.

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Hal Crawford said...

Hey, Glenn! Hope all is well. Was thinking about Mr. Weisgerber today, and I was trying to nail down the date that he passed away. Thanks for your anecdote! And thanks for the Jazz Band picture! I see I'm in it!

Nancy Swearingen Williams said...

Hi Glenn,
I was trying to find out when Mr. Weisgerber passed away and found your blog. I had a lot of respect for him at Ridgeview High School. I had been in band since eighth grade (at SSHS, then Ridgeview). He worked so hard. I remember how hard he fought to take us to Mexico in 1978 for a couple of festivals.
I tried out for drill team for Senior year. I remember he was upset. He said I should save those spots for someone who did not play an instrument. I ended up being picked for alternate,but turned it down and went back to marching band for my last year. He let me come back at Graduation in 1979 to play in the band since I had so many friends in that class.
I was so sad to hear that he had died. I didn't know much about his time when Ridgeview was turned into a middle school. Thank you for doing the blog. Take care,
Nancy Swearingen Williams

Sandy verner said...

I had the privilege of being in the band when Harry was fresh out of college. We became friends and he asked me to be a judge at the festivals while he was at Ridgeview. I loved this man . He was mega talented. I was also at his memorial service when he died. It was a great loss to me and the world.